Anwar’s first year in power – from Reformasi to ‘reformati’

Alfian Z.M. Tahir Diyana Ibrahim

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Madani government celebrates its first anniversary this week. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 23, 2023.

THE unity government led by Anwar Ibrahim is celebrating its first anniversary this week but despite having a year to fulfil its pledges to introduce various reforms, there are still many unrealised promises.

Institutional reforms, abolition of draconian laws, good governance, bringing down cost of living and doing away with corruption were some of the big-ticket promises made by Anwar before coming to power.

While his government has worked hard to place the country’s economy and good governance at the forefront of his administration, other priorities, however, are still on the back-burner.

Draconian laws are here to stay

One such reform still waiting to happen is doing away with the draconian and open-to-abuse Sedition Act 1948 and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).

Rights group Suaram has repeatedly urged Putrajaya to revoke the colonial-era law that criminalises speech with “seditious tendency”.

In his defence, Anwar said in July that the government would avoid using the act, except for in situations when it involves the position of the Malay rulers.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) lawmakers had in the past called for the Sedition Act to be repealed.

As for Sosma, the government said that it will not repeal this preventive law but plans to introduce two amendments, one of them being the offer of bail.

Deputy Law and Institutional Reform Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Ramkarpal Singh said the government plans to improve the act.

At present, section 13 of Sosma only allows for bail if the offender facing a security offence is under 18 years old, a woman, sick or infirm.

Introduced in 2012 as a replacement to the colonial-era Internal Security Act 1960, the equally controversial preventive detention law retained its predecessor’s clause which allows for suspects to be detained without trial for up to 28 days at a time.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail defended the retention of Sosma, saying “the law allows the court process to take place”, which led to much criticism from political figures and rights groups over the country’s stance on the protection of human rights.

PH was also against Sosma when it was part of the opposition coalition and had promised to abolish the preventive law before it came into power.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail has defended the retention of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, saying ‘the law allows the court process to take place’. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 23, 2023.

Freedom of the press

Another aspect previously championed by Anwar and PH was freedom of the media. However, pro-opposition news agencies are now being targeted by the authorities.

In August, a group of senior journalists issued a joint statement denouncing the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, a regulatory agency, for “censoring or blocking portals and online news content”.

In the middle of this year, the regulatory body suspended several news websites publishing articles critical of the government and instructed them to remove some of their content.

Recently, journalists of PAS mouthpiece Harakah had their media accreditation cards revoked.

The National Union of Journalists urged the Communications and Digital Ministry to review the Information Department’s action to revoke Harakah’s accreditation and the withdrawal of media passes for Harakah journalists.

PM’s tenure limit

In 2019, the then Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led PH government tabled a parliamentary bill seeking to set a two-term limit for the premiership.

The bill sought to amend the Federal Constitution to specify a maximum of two terms for a prime minister, and would require support from two-thirds of the 222 elected MPs to pass.

In March 2023, Law and Institutional Reform Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said provided updates on several law reforms being worked on, noting that the fine-tuned policy paper on a 10-year tenure limit for the prime minister would be presented to the cabinet soon for a decision.

Anwar has yet to address the matter.

Separating the prime minister and finance minister portfolios

One of the reforms Anwar and PH had shouted much about previously was to ensure that the prime minister does not also hold the Finance Ministry portfolio.

This was after the 1MDB scandal which unfolded under Najib Razak’s watch, when he had control over both the prime minister and the finance minister’s responsibilities.

However, as soon as Anwar became prime minister, he also named himself as the finance minister.

Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin has slammed Anwar’s decision to helm the Finance Ministry, saying that doing so would erode investors’ trust in his leadership.

Putrajaya MP Radzi Jidin asked Anwar if holding both the positions of prime minister and finance minister would create an opportunity for a debacle of 1MDB proportions to recur.  

Responding to these criticisms, Anwar said it was not a problem for a prime minister to also helm the Finance Ministry, as long as the position was not abused.

“In our history, whether (the two positions) are combined or not is not a problem. The problem is using the position to steal the people’s money,” he said in February during the inaugural Prime Minister’s Question and Answer Session in parliament.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the unity government have faced strong criticism over the High Court granting Deputy Prime Minister Zahid (pictured) a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for his 47 corruption charges linked to Yayasan Akalbudi. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 23, 2023.

High-profile court cases

Perhaps the greatest backlash against Anwar and his government has received is over how several high-profile court cases have turned out in the past year, where several cases involving Umno politicians were dropped or delayed, while Bersatu politicians found themselves facing charges.

One prime example was the court decision in Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s 47 charges of corruption linked to charity outfit Yayasan Akalbudi.

Prior to the general election last November, PH had made this case a clarion call for the need to clean up the country of its corrupt leaders.

But after the polls, Anwar formed an alliance with Zahid’s Barisan Nasional to form the unity government, making the latter the deputy prime minister.

In September, the High Court granted Zahid a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) for his cases.

The DNAA was requested by the prosecution despite the court ruling that a prima facie case had been established against Zahid.

Anwar’s reaction was that Zahid was innocent until proven guilty. And when Zahid was granted the DNAA, Anwar said it was a court decision and he had nothing to do with this.

The opposition clearly did not buy this.

With Anwar presiding over a government that has been seen to be slow in fulfilling its promises, the opposition labelled the government’s promises “reformati”. – November 23, 2023.

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